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Monday, August 31, 2015

The Survivor by Tom Doyle. Sydney: Macmillan, 2015


George rescues a baby in a burning building and, as a reward, wins a trip to Australia on an adventure trip run by a company called Ultimate Bushcraft. They send two young group leaders to collect the group of boys from the airport and, right from the time the plane leaves, nasty things begin to happen, starting with an anaphylactic attack suffered by a boy who has an allergy to nuts - an attack that is no accident. One by one the boys die in the wilderness. As the story is told in statements by various people - and the rants of the killer - the reader knows that it is over and that George has been accused of the murders.  

The author, a school principal(my guess is that it's a boys' school) who is writing under a pen name, knows how to keep boys turning pages. As a thriller it works well and I have no doubt that they will enjoy it; there are two other thrillers by this author that are doing very well. 

 The reader is fed quite a few red herring clues along the way as to who the killer might be, then they are all killed. That's fairly standard in a murder mystery, but it is usually possible to go back and realise the clues were there all along. I didn't feel that way this time. 

I also had my doubts as to the plausibility of a number of things that happened, not so much the killings as the group leader's response to them. I can't discuss many of them without spoilers, but one example is that when the first boy falls seriously ill(poison), he is left behind with a carer but not immediately sent off to hospital - flown off if necessary. I would have thought that the group leader would have a lot of first aid and possibly paramedic skills that would make him ask questions, check the symptoms and call for help, then wait until help arrived. But this doesn't happen; the rest of the group continue with their activities and leave without him. He goes to hospital too late. I realise that the whole point of the novel is for everyone to die except the hero(hence the title), but it just didn't make sense to me. 

In all fairness, I also thought a lot of things made no sense in The Da Vinci Code - it must be a thriller thing! They simply fall apart if the reader tries to make sense of them. 

Will work well for boys from about thirteen up. I already have one waiting for this when I finish reviewing it.

August 31: On This Day

Well, it is the last day of August, the last day of winter - officially, anyway. The weather forecast for the rest of this week is still fairly cool - even with a bit of sun, it's likely to be windy. Thursday, my birthday, is predicted to be cold and wet. Rats!

Still, I thought it might be nice to have an on-this-day meme.

Not much in the way of books and writing., though poor Henry V of England died of dysentery, leaving his baby son, Henry VI, as king, and both of them were the subjects of Shakespeare plays.

Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were chased by paparazzi and killed in a car crash, leading to thousands of words being written about it and a lot of fascinating conspiracy theories. Not the sort of writing history I'd like.

A lot of disasters happened on this day, which I'll skip here. 

Birthdays? A couple of Roman Emperors, Caligula and Commodus. Caligula had a chapter in The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, and that book inspired I, Claudius and Claudius The God by Robert Graves. 

There was DuBose Heyward, whose novel Porgy became, first a play by his wife, then an opera by Gershwin. I've never read the book or seen the show, but who hasn't heard at least a couple of those glorious songs? And speaking of musical shows, it's also the birthday of Alan J Lerner! 

There were some other authors, but the only one I have read was Leon Uris. I've read QBVII, Mila 18 and the blockbuster, Exodus. Trivia I read about that one says it has sold as many copies as Gone With The Wind

I read Exodus when I was in my teens - actually, about the time I was reading Gone With The Wind, come to think of it. I'm not sure where the battered paperback came from; my family had a lot of elderly books and recordings lying around. But I read it cover to cover and then, when I was in my later years of secondary school, I acquired a hardcover copy for 20c at a school fete. It was clean and in very good condition; I think it must have had a dust jacket at some stage, but without it, you wouldn't know it from new. It must have been donated by the teacher whose name was on it. 

Anyway, it meant I could read it again. And again. And so I did. 

The movie was a classic in its own right, but I couldn't help but feel that Paul Newman was miscast in the role of Ari Ben Canaan, the hero. He was just not the way I imagined Ari - and as for that American accent...! If Ari did speak perfect English - and I'm not sure he would - it would be with a British accent, not an American one, because that's who he learned his English from. Oh, well. The novelist was American. 

I do have a copy of the movie, but three hours is just too much for me - I've fallen asleep during the Tolkien movies, so would drop off in that.

I'd rather curl up with the novel. Off to the shelves to search!

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Leon!

Rich And Rare: A Sneak Peek Cover Reveal!

This Ford Street anthology, in which I have my Eugowra robbery story, is coming out in late October, earlier than originally planned, yay!  It will be launched at whichever school wins the privilege(last time it was Princes Hill). I do hope it's somewhere I can reach easily. The book is the third Trust Me! anthology, but they've changed the title and they have certainly changed the cover. Take a look: 


It's by Shaun Tan. Not at all like the covers of the first two, with their photos of teenage boys! But Paul Collins said that the second anthology was so like the first in appearance that people were getting them mixed up and the second volume hadn't sold as well as the first. So here we are with a cover by one of Oz's top cover artists. 

What do you think of it?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Melbourne Writers' Festival - Last Day!

So, I've had five sessions at the Melbourne Writers' Festival this year, which is five more than last year. It would have been more than five if I'd had the energy to go out on Tuesday evening to the Alice In Wonderland anniversary celebration. It's still winter, cold, wet and after a full day's work and a staff meeting, I really didn't feel like trying to find a place I'd never been.

But five sessions were good, three of them free! Of the two paid sessions, I think the Shaun Tan panel was the better. I've long been an admirer of his work and encountering the French artist Kitty Crowther was great. The historical fantasy session was a disappointment, I'm sorry to say. It should have occurred to me that for historical fantasy, someone like Kate Forsyth or Margo Lanagan or Juliet Marillier, for example, would have been the best. I'd never heard of either of the speakers and, though I'm only too happy to discover newbies, neither of them had written anything that grabbed me. One novel, though it might have been mildly interesting, featured bestiality, with the author not being asked to elaborate, and the other was, effectively, slash fiction, judging by the blurb online, and slash fiction has always left me cold, as has hurt/comfort, which is often a part of slash fiction. Just a personal thing, not the author's fault. I might have been more interested if the questions involved had asked them to talk about their stories as well as their writing techniques. 

The free session last Sunday, on Modern Mythologies, was very entertaining, and I bought both books as ebooks(so no signing for me).

Today I attended two free sessions and I thoroughly enjoyed both. 

The first one was an interview with Sophie Hannah by Jane Sullivan(a well known journo). Sophie Hannah is a well-known crime writer who has, in the last year, had published a new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders. He's the only Christie character because, as she pointed out, it would have been just a bit much to try to get not only Poirot right, but also the right voice for Hastings. I can see that. I haven't read the book yet because I hadn't read all the originals, though several, and wondered if I should, but I downloaded it during the session. What the heck. Sophie Hannah was very entertaining, a lively speaker with a delightful sense of humour. Although she spoke casually about her parents as if they were just Fred and Maureen Bloggs, and her father's collection of cricket books which he didn't read, and her mother makíng her cringe at parent teacher night, her father was a big name university academic who lectured in politics and wrote a lot of books, and her mother is Adele Geras, a famous children's writer who blogs regularly on the History Girls website and boasted about her daughter's gig when she got it. Apparently, her agent happened to mention that she would be great to write a new Christie novel when he was at the publishers about something else and the very next day, the publisher was chatting with Christie's grandson who was remarking that it might be about time the estate allowed a continuation novel to be written...

The second session was Meg Mundell interviewing Mike Jones(never heard of him, but I bet I will!) and Kelly Link, an American horror writer and editor(I did a panel with her at a Continuum) on the theme of modern Gothic. Mike said that because he mostly does work for TV his writing methods are very different from those if the average novelist. You do everything as a team. So he's used some of this in his fiction. Kelly works with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and they act as each other's first editors. She was kind enough to refer to Australian Gothic writers such as Gary Crew, whose books she read when she was working at a children's bookshop, Margo Lanagn and, for some reason, Paul Jennings. (Huh? Over the top, yes, but GOTHIC? The definition must be broader than I thought)

There is a session about the PhryneFisher TV series this afternoon, but I'm not planning to stick around. I really must get on with my neglected house cleaning once I finish lunch at Young and Jackson's.

In all, I've been quite pleased with this year's festival. There could have been a bit more spec fic, but there was some, and I was very impressed with how many high quality free events there were.
Wonder what will be on next year?

ASIM 61 finally about to launch!

It has been way too long since my issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine came out and it will be just a bit longer because the layout artist is still finishing the ebook version, but here's a sneak peek at the cover:

And here's the blurb that goes with it, which you'll shortly find on the ASIM web site:

ASIM 61 Now In Pre-Launch, Still Waiting On Shipment Of Lemon-Soaked Paper Napkins
After much delay, ASIM 61 has arrived on the launch pad, packed with fiction, poetry and nonfic from David Barber, Mark Bondurant, Fred Coppersmith, A J Fitzwater, Kim Gaal, Sinthia J Higgen-Bottom, Kathleen Jennings, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Rich Larson, Sean Monaghan, Charlotte Nash, Patrice Sarath, George S Walker, and Sean Williams. The cover art (which shows a scene from Amanda Fitzwater's novella) is by Shauna O'Meara; other artists featured are SpAE and Lewis Morley. The print version is done; we're just waiting on the e-book editions before we press 'ignition', whereupon any small children still loitering on the launchpad will be instantly reduced to a charred residue.

All the contributors' copies are sent out, but I haven't seen it yet. Still, if our subscribers can be patient - not one complaint so far! - so can I. 

You'll notice there are quite a few local contributions on the list, including Sean Williams - welcome back to our pages, Sean!  Also Kathleen Jennings, who has usually done art for us, but shows her versatility here. Ambelin Kwaymullina's piece is her Continuum GoH speech. It was wonderful! It has been on the web site for some time, but it will be nice to have a copy in your hand. If you're a fan, her final Tribe novel has just come out, The Foretelling Of Georgie Spider. I am so jealous of that lady's ability to juggle while walking a tightrope and carrying things on her head, ie the fact that she could write all this wonderful stuff and do handcraft while teaching full time. She is an inspiration! 

If you want to order ASIM 61 when it's finally advertised in the near future, why not bookmark the website

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On Rereading The King Must Die

I have just finished rereading Mary Renault's classic The King Must Die. I first read it when I was about eleven. I remember, because, having heard a radio play, I bought a copy as a birthday gift...and kept it, giving the birthday girl something else. My paperback is falling apart from so many readings over the years, so for this reread I bought an inexpensive ebook version. 


For those who don't know about it, it's a novel about the mythical hero Theseus, written as a straight historical novel with just a touch of fantasy, a bit like Mary Stewart's Merlin novels - and even then, you ask yourself if this or that  happened or not.

The title is based on the charming custom of ancient times in which the sacred king of a matriarchal society ruled for a year or seven or nine, then was killed, to make sure that the king was always young and strong and the crops would grow. Robert Graves and other scholars believed that this is where quite a lot of mythology comes from. (And if you ever read the very Stephen King-style novel Harvest Home by Tom Tryon, you'll find a sacred king thing happening in rural America)

 And Mary Renault works it into her novel. Her Theseus is not a giant of a man as generally believed; if he had been, she argues, he would never have been chosen for the bull dance, which required dancers who were short, slim and agile. What he does have plenty of is brains. 

He believes in his connection with the god Poseidon, even after he knows he was fathered by King Aigeus of Athens and that his ability to sense when an earthquake is coming is a family genetic thing on Aigeus's side, not because his father was a god. Because he believes this, he also has a strong sense of the king's duty to his people, including the possible duty to die for them - and that when the god makes this clear,  the king needs to consent. If he hasn't consented the sacrifice means nothing. 

So the stories about his adventures on the Isthmus of Corinth start with his being required to wrestle and kill the previous king of Eleusis - in mythology he's a bandit called Kerkyon, in the novel Kerkyon is the king's title, and when Theseus has defeated his predecessor he is Kerkyon. 

This Theseus is cocky, assertive and likes women, plural. He falls in love, but that doesn't mean he's not going to sleep with captive women. It's one of the things a man does, as far as he is concerned. He doesn't mistreat them, though. He respects the gods of wherever he is, including the Goddess, but he's patriarchal to the core. 

When he goes to Crete, he becomes close with his team, closer than siblings, and as their chosen leader he feels the same responsibility as he would for a kingdom. 

To be honest, I wouldn't want to be married to this Theseus - he would insist on his right not only to sleep with whoever he wanted but have them around the palace - not mistresses, but women who do the housework and come to his bed when required. 

But I would be more than happy to have him for my ruler. I'd feel safe. He would always put his subjects first.

This reread picked up a few things that I hadn't noticed last time I read it(not that long ago!) One was that there's a reference to the Thera explosion. The island is called Kalliste at the time, but it's Thera all right. There's a suggestion that this explains the earthquake that knocked out Knossos. I really must go back and reread that story!  

Now I'm trying to decide if I'm going to reread The Bull From The Sea, which picks up just after the first novel and is, in a way, the second half of one book. It's so sad... Later, perhaps.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The 2015 Hugo Winners

And here's the full list of what you voted for if you were a member of this year's World Science Fiction Convention. I took it straight from the Hugo website, where it was posted by a guy called Kevin(Standlee?) Thank you, Kevin! I deleted everything that might be considered copyright except the bit about finding the details at the Hugo page.

 It will be a while before most people are recovered from their partying and ready to post. I have no doubt there there will be a lot of discussion and analysis that will go till the NEXT controversy, but my suggestion is to put it all behind you, guys, get on with reading new books and magazines and next time, nominate if you don't want someone else to do it for you. And my advice to the someone else is, start your own awards if you don't like the way these are run. 

There were, IMO, plenty of people on both sides of the controversy who behaved badly. Play nice, guys! You behaved like children, some of you. 

Congratulations to the winners, including the only Australian team to get a rocket, the Galactic Suburbia bunch. I've never got around to listening to their podcasts myself, but will. 

I'm not too sad ASIM didn't make it. A little, but not too much. I know how good it is and now several thousand people who wouldn't have heard of us otherwise also know. That has to be better than saying, "Hey, we got a Hugo!" only to have the reply, "Yes, but that was because..." 

If you read and liked your ASIM in the Hugo pack, do consider subscribing. Hey, consider subscribing even if you weren't a Worldcon member! ASIM 61 will be out very soon - they're working on the ebook version and no point offering without all the options available. I'm organising the art for 62, which should be out soon after.


The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)


“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)


Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)


Guardians of the Galaxy, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)


Orphan Black: “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, ” written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)


Julie Dillon


Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant


Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery


Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)


Laura J. Mixon


Elizabeth Leggett


Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Wesley Chu

The full order of finish in each category and links to the nomination and voting details are available on the 2015 Hugo Awards page.

Melbourne Writers Festival 2

So, today I went to a couple more events at the MWF. It has been quite a while since I did that. Last year I went to nothing and the year before only one event and that was a free book launch. So it was nice to find something I wanted to attend a second day in a row.

I had intended to go to the panel on true crime as well, but I left home too late; there was plenty of time to get to the panel on historical fantasy fiction. The panellists were two women of whom I'd never heard, though one of them, C.S Pacat, is apparently a huge bestseller with her novel that started life as a web serial and went on to be self published before being picked up by Penguin. The other one, Ilka Tampke, was a debut novelist who seems to be doing well. Her novel is set in pre-Roman Britain, while the other one was not really historical fantasy at all, just the author's own universe, though she did research some historical periods. Both novels have  sex in them, including bestiality in the Britain one!  

To be honest, the discussion was very general and there was no mention of what the books were actually about. I had to whip out my iPad and ask my friend Dr Google for the story lines! The Pacat one sounded to me like old style slash fiction(including hurt/comfort? Hmm, I wonder...). Not my cup of tea, but this sort of fiction is very popular, hence the bestselling status. I might check out the other book, though the bestiality thing doesn't appeal. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Sharon, a friend and former colleague, who had come to hear Ilka, a friend and former neighbour. We sat together. I also met Virginia Lowe, who does Create A Kid's Book, and her husband, both of whom came with me to the next session.

That session, free, was on "modern mythologies" and much more interesting. The authors were Dolores Redondo and Samhita Arni. Again, I'd never heard of either of them, but I was interested in the idea of using mythology as the background for a novel. Both books, Invisible Guardian and The Missing Queen, were crime fiction/thrillers. Ms Redondo's book - which has so far sold 600,000 copies in Spain alone and been translated into many languages - has a theme taken from Basque myth and legend, while The Missing Queen was inspired by India's national epic, the Ramayana but set in the here and now. 

I bought them both in ebook on the spot. 

The Spanish lady had an interpreter who was very good, whispering to her and translating almost immediately. Through the interpreter, she said, among other things, that fans of the novel have been turning up in the area where it's set, much as there were Brother Cadfel tourists in Shrewsbury at one stage(I was one of them). Apparently, the murder victims of what seems to be a set of ritual killings are found with a certain type of local cake on them. Nobody actually sells these cakes nowadays, they are only home made, but tourists ask for them! Things left on dead bodies in the novel!  Sounds like a very popular series(it's a trilogy, but only one volume has been translated into English so far).

So, a good day at the festival. Not sure if I'll go to more this week, must check the program, but it has been good do fat.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Hugos: This Year's Rocket Design

Given that I'm here in Australia and this year's Worldcon is in Spokane, Washington, I thought it might be nice to check out this year's Hugo Award design, as the awards will be handed out in a few hours; by the time I head to the Melbourne Writers Festival, it will have been announced. Apparently, the rocket design is the same each year but the base is different, and this year's is designed by Matthew Dockery. The photo is taken by Kevin Standlee. The picture is okay to use by non commercial folk as long as the attributions are there, so here it is!


I'd be fascinated to know what the designer had in mind. 

I received the Australian Science Fiction Media Award in my day, as Best Fan Writer. That was designed to look like the Emerald City in the film of  The Wizard Of Oz and was designed and made by Peter Lupinski. It was made of green glass, it was gorgeous, but heavy! You could brain someone with it. Still, I treasure it. They haven't given out that award in many years now. 

I can't find a photo of it online and it's currently at my mother's place, but if you watch the movie, you'll see what it looked like in the scene where Dorothy and her friends are approaching the city.

I'll publish the list of winners as soon as I get hold of them.

Melbourne Writers Festival 2015 - First Session!

I didn't go last year, alas! There was simply nothing I wanted to see at the tines I could go. I used to go to ten sessions, because you could get them cheaper than individually. I think this may have come back, but for quite some tine, you couldn't. I was willing to try out something new, different on the ten ticket thing, but when I couldn't I got picky.

But I missed my festival. I loved going to sessions in which I could hear my favourite writers talk about children's, YA, crime and spec fic books at a time when I wasn't at work. So this year, after spending most of the day with my mother, as I do on Saturdays - and especialły on a fine Saturday when I could drag her down to the beach - I simply got in the tram and rode into the city to see what I could find.  If there was nothing I wanted to attend today, I could pick up a program and find something for tomorrow.  (Actually, there are a couple of sessions I would like to attend tomorrow. One on true crime, the other on historical fantasy. Never heard of the authors, but I love the genre)

I arrived just too late for any of the 4.00 pm sessions and the later ones were away from the main festival venue, so I thought I'd trundle up to Trades Hall for the Ned Kellies, which are awards for crime fiction/non-fic. That started at 6.30 and was free and the people there are all big names in local crime fiction, some from Sisters In Crime. It was likely to be great fun. 

Then I discovered, quite by chance, that in the next few minutes there was going to be a session at the Edge theatre in which the GoHs were Shaun Tan and Kitty Crowther(despite her Anglo-sounding name the lady is French/Swedish). The moderator/interviewer was Bernard Caleo, a local comic book artist. 

Sorry, Ned Kelly Awards, no contest! 

It was very enjoyable listening to these two wonderful illustrators talk about their work. Both of them are winners of the Astrid Lindgren Award.  

Of course, we'd all heard of him, not so many of us had heard of her, so it was good to learn something new. Both of them talked about how they thought when they were drawing. He says that he doesn't start with a message, he starts with a drawing and the message comes later. For example, there was something that started as a funny drawing of a crocodile floor in a high rise building, with a special button in the lift. It's there because crocodiles need the sun. The message - which came later - was that the city in the story was built on a swamp, so we owe the crocodiles something for having taken away their habitat.

She spoke of a baby book called Alors! which was written/drawn for a Paris charity which publishes and prints books so a thousand children can have a book for Christmas. It was shown in slides and she and Bernard read it together. It was a charming book in which a bunch of toys are waiting anxiously for "him". In the last couple of pictures, "he" arrives, a smiling baby, and they rejoice and go to snuggle up in bed with him.

After swearing I wouldn't buy any print books at the festival, I bought Shaun's new one, a collection of Grimm fairytales with his clay art illustrating them. I lined up to get it signed. Behind me were a mother and child, a sweet little boy just turned seven who declared "Shaun Tan is my favourite author!" They had several well-loved books in their bag.

In front of me were a mother and teen daughter who were showing Mr Tan several of the girl's drawings, some of them of him, and very fine they were too. I suggested that they might consider checking out Ford Street Publishing, which had published two wonderful teenage artists in the last few years. 

I chatted a bit with Shaun, who vaguely recalled meeting me, though not my name. (It was on a post it note on the book, as requested by the festival volunteer, but he hadn't seen that). We agreed that Ford Street is an excellent publisher which treats you well. I got my autograph and left. Unusually for a Saturday night I've decided to go out for dinner. Wine and eggplant Parma. A nice way to end the day!

A bit blurry, but here they are.

An Old Book From My Shelves - Poul Anderson's Past Times

It's weird how one thing leads to another. I read an open submission thingie for an anthology themed about monsters of the Mediterranean.  (Deadline end of September) Well, I thought, there are plenty of monsters in Greek mythology, why not refresh my memory?

So I got out my copy of Robert Graves' The Greek Myths, a classic of its kind which I first read when I was in primary school. (How did I know it wasn't a kids' book? I do remember telling my friends all about the sacred king and the triple Goddess...) After a while I got the urge to reread Mary Renault's The King Must Die(currently reading in ebook), her wonderful novel about Theseus, which I first read when I was eleven, after hearing a radio play of the opening scenes. I admit a lot went over my head back then; I got more out of it as an adult. But I was madly into Greek mythology and children's retellings just didn't cut it for me after Robert Graves.

That made me feel a hankering for Poul Anderson's The Dancer From Atlantis, which was seen from the viewpoint of the Cretans, with Theseus as not such a nice man at all, and featured the Thera explosion. I went to look for it on my shelves, but it was somewhere on a higher shelf, being in alphabetical order, and instead I grabbed the same author's Past Times, a collection of short stories reprinted from other collections and magazines. It was sticking out from the shelf and I could reach it without grabbing a chair.

I had forgotten this one completely. Interestingly, one of the stories, "Eutopia",  had been in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions collection, which would have meant, at the time it was published, that it was controversial,  the sort of stuff that would make people gasp and feel just a bit naughty for reading it.  Well, that was in the 1960s, this is now. It was a perfectly good story and I enjoyed it, but it wouldn't raise an eyebrow today. Really. I can't say more because spoilers for anyone who wants to read it, but I think the gasp shock horror aspect was connected with the last line. And all it got from me was, "Huh? Is THIS the deadly secret?"

How our culture changes!

For the better in some ways, I think - in this aspect, anyway.

I have always loved Poul Anderson, though - there was a tale for any mood I was in, whether it was a hankering for hard SF, for space opera or fantasy or alternative universe. It's still the case. And his heroes - my favourites were Dominic Flandry, agent of the Terran Empire and Nicholas Van Rijn, the  canny merchant who acted dumb and wasn't.

What about you - any Anderson fans out there? (Or Robert Graves, who also wrote those wonderful Claudius novels).

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Wizard Pickles - Guest Post From Chuck Whelon

 Yesterday I received an inquiry from Chuck Whelan, who introduces himself below. I do receive quite a few requests for promo from authors and artists, but Chuck is a fellow fan of Graeme Base, so who could resist inviting him to talk about his work? I must admit, while I'm familiar with the Where's Wally type of books and some that are similar to this picture book, the idea of having a story is not all that common. I remember The Eleventh Hour, which was an elaborate picture book with a mystery attached(who stole the birthday cake?) so it's nice to know someone else is having a go at it.

I'm very much in favour of Kickstarter projects. It's how Christmas Press began and look how they're doing these days. If you'd like to support Chuck's project, the links are below, but first read his post and drool over the lovely samples from his book...

Without further ado - take it away, Chuck!

 Wizard Pickles.
Hi, I’m Chuck Whelon, a cartoonist and children’s book author. Sue’s invited me to write this guest post to tell you about why I’m running a Kickstarter for my latest book

I’ve been working as an illustrator, off and on, since the early 1990s. My first job out of college was working at a book production company in the UK, where I was born and raised. There, I worked on a lot of language-teaching materials and other course-books for large publishing houses such as Macmillan, Heinemann and the BBC. It was a small place, but I got to do a lot of illustration, and also had to muck in and help with editorial and design duties. An assignment came up to work in the USA and, for some reason, no-one else wanted it. So, at 25 I jumped up and left for San Francisco, California, where I’ve lived ever since.


Much of the work I do comes through my agency, Beehive Illustration []. Through them I got to work on some samples for a proposed Where’s Wally? spin-off series. It never came into being, but it led to me working on some other search-and-find titles for Buster Books in the UK. The first was called Where’s the Penguin?  and it was followed up by Where’s Santa? and The Great Fairy Tale Search. These have all been published internationally and in many languages (my favorite editions are the Korean ones, which are very luxurious!). I’ve also done a lot of maze and puzzle books for Dover Publications here in the US, including a large series of What to Doodle? books. 

Now, you may have noticed that all those books have a question mark in the title, which is a little odd, but I am particularly fond of to working on puzzles and games. I’ve also illustrated a whole bunch of games for Minion Games []. I even designed a game myself called “Legitimacy: The game of Royal Bastards” []. I’m also the author of a long-running, semi-autobigraphical, comic-fantasy webcomic called “Pewfell” and the cartoonist for Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG.

So, you’re probably getting an idea of the sort of things I like to create, and what led me to make Wizard Pickles. Wizard Pickles is fantasy-themed puzzle adventure book. It consists of 12 double page illustrations, filled not only with search activities, but also a wide variety of different kinds of picture puzzles, such as mazes, logic problems and codes. As much as I love straight search books like Where’s Waldo? I always want something a little more from them. I wanted to write something that had an actual story to it and a greater variety of puzzles.


There are a very few books of this type out there, one of the most popular being Graeme Base’s excellent The Eleventh Hour, which expertly showed how such a thing could be done. It’s definitely been a big inspiration. As a kid I loved Kit Williams’ Masquerade (impossible to solve) and his book without a name (The puzzle was to find out the title — which I proudly managed to do — Let me know if you need any hints!!). 

Anyway, I was very sure about what I wanted to do with Wizard Pickles, so I set about writing it. That was the tough part. It was a balancing act between having an interesting story with actual characters and making each page be an interesting puzzle. I did a lot of back and forth on that, I can tell you! I was noodling around with it for a year or two, but eventually I had an outline and rough book dummy that I was happy with, and not a million miles from my initial concepts. I then showed the dummy around to get some feedback. Perhaps the most influential person to critique it was David Saylor, the creative director at Scholastic, during a local SCBWI event. He was very positive about it, but his advice was to to simplify the plot. A lot! Well, that was hard to hear, but I managed to do it, and in the end I didn’t have to gut it too much. There was a whole sub-plot about a Golden Pickling Spoon that was completely unnecessary, and the book was much better for it. So thanks for that, David!

Now, the manuscript was in pretty good shape, but I knew the book was still going to be a tough sell without the art. Then I heard about which was a new site where people can sponsor artists they like. It’s a bit like Kickstarter, but it’s on more of an ongoing basis. I put the word out, and managed to find a few people interested enough to want to back the project there ( - I ended up getting enough backers to pay me $200 per completed page. Not a lot, considering the work involved, but just enough to give me the motivation to keep working on the book in between my other assignments. After a few months, the book was done!

Now came the bit I was really dreading — shopping the book around to publishers. I didn’t want to offer it to Dover, as although they pay well and are great to work with, they always want all the rights to everything and never pay royalties. My agent showed it round to a number of people, including Buster Books (who had published my other search books), and I sent it to the couple of publishers I could find who might be interested and were actually open to unsolicited submissions. I even tried a few literary agents I had been referred to. Everywhere I got the same answer: “We love it, but it’s not what we typically publish and we don’t know how to market it”. They all encouraged me to keep showing it around but, after about a year of this, I decided it was time for plan B. 

Plan B was always going to be Kickstarter.

I have had success on Kickstarter with my webcomic “Pewfell”, and several of the games I’ve illustrated for Minion were funded there. With Wizard Pickles my goal was to make something new and original, that hadn’t been seen before. It was the book in my head that I just had to get out. It’s understandable that marketing people, with budgets to worry about, do not want to take a chance on something with no proven track record. But I truly believe in the book, and Kickstarter is the perfect place to try out something new and different.

So now the project is up and running and we’ll see how it does. You can check it out here:

It runs until Sept 17th. 

If all goes well, I’ll next move into the printing and distribution phase. For this I will be using Lightning Source/IngramSpark. I’ve used them for many years for my graphic novel collections, and their hardbacks are excellent quality and look lovely. Plus they have a great distribution network that get the print and eBook versions into all the big online retailers (e.g. Amazon & Barnes & Noble), and even gives you a shot at retail stores… if you can get the margins down enough. That’s tough, but still, the per-book royalty is just about as good as what a traditional publisher would pay. They have printing hubs in the USA, Australia, Europe, and the UK, so you have great international reach. A successful Kickstarter easily covers the setup costs, which are relatively small and certainly a lot less than a full-on print run. Of course if the Kickstarter does REALLY well, offset printing may still be a possibility, but with Lightning Source I can set a relatively low initial funding goal and go from there. 

The biggest challenge with going this route is getting visibility, which is why I’m so grateful to Sue for giving me this opportunity to tell you my story here on The Great Raven!

If you’d like to know more, I’m very happy to answer questions. There are endless articles online about how to run a Kickstarter or self-publish a book. It’s a route I’d only recommend if there’s a particular dream project that you want to get off the ground. It’s a lot of work to do properly and you have to have your ducks in a row. Also, I only like to go to Kickstarter once the project is complete and ready to print. Going earlier and asking for more cash might be better from a business point-of-view - i.e. test the market before you do the work. But really, if it’s something you believe in and you’re going to do anyway, then I say just do it!


Email and web site:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Look What I've Got!

This just arrived yesterday. Sometimes I have to go to the PO for a parcel, but the postie who delivered it had carefully placed it under the doormat as he/she has done with others before, bless them! I think it's sweet, though I doubt my neighbour Peter would touch anything of mine, although he IS a book lover with whom I stop to chat about SF/F. ;-)

This came from a publisher with whom I've dealt in the past, though not recently. Always nice, anyway! 

It is a YA thriller and written, I gather, by the author of Thirteen, a book I believe we have in my school's library. The name, Tom Hoyle, is a pseudonym for a school headmaster who presumably doesn't want it to be known that he does this stuff. That's a pity. I can assure the gentleman that his kids would be terribly proud to know that the author of those exciting books they have been reading is working right at their very school. Maybe it's some exclusive private school where this sort of thing isn't approved of by the administration. 

Or maybe he just wants his privacy. I can relate to that. It's one reason why I have never lived close to the schools where I work. But my own students know about my writing. They read it and love it and once there were a couple of girls who offered to distribute fliers! I said no, but it was delightful that they wanted to help. Another student showed me her copy of Girlfriend which had a review of my novel. 

Ah, well, up to him, I guess. I've begun reading it and so far the language seems to be readable and easy enough, no long words or sentences. I always think of reluctant readers. This is one advantage of a teacher writing a book - they know what kids will enjoy and they know how to tell a story in a way that even those who aren't top readers can handle. 

There will be a review here as soon as I finish. Stand by.